The other top sight/thing to do in the area is a visit of the (relatively small) canyons of the Kamenice river, the lower one called "Ticha Souteska" or "Edmundova Souteska" ("Calm" or "Edmund's" canyon) and the upper one is called "Divoka Souteska" ("Wild" canyon) - for whatever reason, it's less impressive and not wild at all from my experience.
To experience the canyon(s) you must do a walk/hike, see my Sports Tip, which involves a boat ride in each of the canyons. The fee for the Ticha Souteska is CZK 80, roughly 3 Euro, for the Divoka Souteska it is CZK 60. Length of the first boat ride is about 1 km, the other is only a half km long. Operation hours in summer season only, from 9 am to 5.30 pm.
The coxswain will tell you about the history and technical details of the canyons/boat rides and legends involving the bizarre sandstone formations. Unfortunately it's all in Czech, a few of the guys also speak some German, but don't expect them to speak English, sorry. Half way through the Ticha Souteska the guy will stop the boat and pull a rope - and, oh wonder, there's a waterfall (pic 3)!
The top sight in the region is the famous sandstone arch "Pravcicka Brana" or "Prebischtor" in German (Remember, the region had a majority of Germans until the end of WWII.) It is *the* landmark of the National Park Bohemian Switzerland. The only way to get there and see the sandstone arch is to hike. For information on the hike please see my respective Sports Tip.
You can see the arch from the last serpentine of the hike up, but to get a closer look and especially for access to the viewing points around the arch you must pay the entrance fee of 75 CZK/3 Euro for adults and 25 CZK/1 Euro for students and kids. Quite a rip-off!
The opening of the arch is 26.5 m wide and 16 m tall - the largest natural bridge of stone in Central Europe. It was formed by erosion over thousands of years. According to scientists it consists of two sandstone massifs, if you have a closer look you recognise the rift between them. Otherwise the arch would not have survived that long - the differences in temperature would have made it burst. But the two massifs can shift slightly, independently.
The (German) name was given around the year 1800. In 1840/41 a first snack place was built, the present restaurant (former hotel) Sokoli hnizdo (hawk's aerie) in Swiss-Alpine style was built 1881. It is unfortunately very run down and in urgent need of renovation.
Until 1982 people could actually walk on top of the arch - it had to be closed due to damages by erosion. Still, you can climb (stone/iron stairs) the opposite sandstone massif and enjoy gorgeous views of the arch and the other nearby bizarre sandstone massifs as well as the mountains in the distance.
Right at the No. 1 sight in the area, the sandstone arch "Pravcicka Brana" is a kiosk where they sell snacks and beverages. I saw they have beer, cola, sprite and limo, and "original Thuringian (!) Bratwurst" plus ice-cream.
Prices are outrageous for Czech standards, even more expensive than at most places on the German side of the border. Since it was a really HOT day (35 C) we opted against beer and each had a limo - which turned out to be ok, but we could not find out what the basic taste was. It definitely had lots of sugar, though.
The good thing about the place is the location - right under that huge sandstone arch, in the shade (afternoon), and nobody complains if you eat the picnic you brought with you.
Coming back from the long hike we still had some time to kill and decided to have a meal at a restaurant in Hrensko. My friend suggested this place which he knew from back in the 1990s. For whatever reason it is named "Lugano" - I could not see anything that reminded me in the slightest of that Swiss town - and it turned out to be a quite pleasant place.
We sat outdoor, right by the (not busy) street, quiet and in the shade. Service was good, quick and attentive. German spoken, no idea about English (but probably not).
Favorite Dish: I had a yummy green salad with tomatoes, pepper, feta cheese, and a Krusovice beer. My friend had a Schnitzel with mushrooms and french fries and a beer; he said it was tasty. All in all the check was 330 CZK, I think - about 13 Euro for both of us.
Hrensko has no train station, but you easily reach the train station of Schöna/Germany by ferry, just across the Elbe river. This train station is served by commuter trains S1 that run Schöna - Dresden - Meissen. Hourly service until late night.
The regional trains Decin/CZ - Bad Schandau/Germany also stop in Schöna, bi-hourly service, about 10 minutes in either direction. For both types of trains the fares of the VVO public transportation network apply, see website below.
The closest international train stops are in Decin and Bad Schandau.
Another option to get to Hrensko is by bus, which runs from Decin via Hrensko and even farther up to the National Park: stops are the trail head to the canyons, the lower trail head to the sandstone arch "Pravcicka brana", the upper trail head to the sanstone arch, Mezna Louka, and Mezna, a tiny village on a plateau with views and hiking trails.
Service is unfortunately only bi-hourly. Fares are dirt cheap. Tickets can be obtained from the driver.
To get from the train station Schöna to Hrensko you have to cross the river - by ferry, which is operated by a German company. You can pay in Czech Koruna or Euro, fare is 1.30 Euro one way. For schedule see website below, in general you can say it runs from early morning till late evening.
If you want to see the canyon of the Kamenice river and the sandstone arch "Pravcicka Brana" in one day then there's only one way: A long and quite exhausting hike that requires an early start.
We arrived by train and ferry in Hrensko at 9 am. For the first part of the hike see the previous tip (pics 1, 2). Instead of going up to Mezna you follow the canyon to the upper boat ride, this part of the canyon is called "Divoka souteska" (no idea why they refer to it as "wild" canyon, because I found it less impressive than the other one, pic 3). This second boat ride is only half as long as the first one, but the following hiking trail through the canyon is much longer. Finally the canyon is not accessible anymore and you leave it, turning left. Follow the signs and the slowly ascending trail through the forest to Mezni Louka (a hotel and info point, bus stop, road/parking).
This is where the so called "Gabrielensteig" trail (an old name, pre WWII) to Pravcicka Brana starts. The trail ascends considerably at first, later goes w/o much up and down about half way up along the sandstone mountain range. The views are mostly obstructed by the woods. Only a few times you get good views - see pic 4. Finally you reach the ascend to Pravcicka Brana - more serpentines, quite steep. You can see the sandstone arch from below for free (pic 5), but to get the best views of it and for going up to the most gorgeous viewing points you must pay the entrance fee.
The hiking trail winds down through the forest until you reach the road Mezni Louka - Hrensko. Unfortunately you must follow the (quite busy) road for about 20-30 minutes until you get to Hrensko (if you don't happen to be right in time for the bus, see transportation tip, but it runs only bi-hourly), then it's another 15 minutes to the ferry.
Equipment: Definitely hiking boots, walking sticks are recommended. Sun protection is a *must*, ditto bottle(s) of water. Bringing picnic/food is recommended.
You can see the canyon of the Kamenice river with an easy and not too exhausting hike. The classic start is in Hrensko, but if you rather walk downhill you can take the bus to Mezna and start there.
Follow the main street to the start of the trail head, about 1.5 km from the ferry station (pic 1). From there on the trail runs along the small river in the canyon until you reach the boat station (pic 2) after about another half hour. The canyon is so narrow that there is no room for a trail - you *must* use the boat from there on (pic 3). The boat ride takes about 20 minutes. Afterward the trail goes through some tunnels and along galleries (15 minutes), until the point where you have to decide if you want to continue through the canyon and do the boat ride upstream, too, or take the (steep) hiking trail up to the tiny village Mezna (pics 4, 5, about 30 minutes) where you can hop on a bus back to Hrensko.
Equipment: Hiking boots are recommended. Definitely bring a warm pullover or so, it's much colder in the canyon than in Hrensko or Mezna.